Three break ranks on House maps

Three House members broke ranks with their respective caucuses today on the GOP's House maps. Here's how they explained their votes.

Posted Updated
State Rep. William D. Brisson, D-District 22
Laura Leslie

While the redistricting votes in the Senate today were uniformly partisan, three House members broke ranks with their respective caucuses on the GOP’s House maps. The proposal passed the House by a vote of 68-50, and is on its way to the Senate for consideration as early as Tuesday.

Rep. Bill Brisson, D-Bladen, was one of two Democrats who voted in favor of the Republican plan, despite hours of speeches from his own caucus calling the map unfair and discriminatory.

“I can live with my district,” Brisson explained.

Brisson said he voted for the Legislative Black Caucus map because it “kept Bladen whole,” but he voted against the Democrats’ map, which also kept Bladen whole.

“I didn’t see it was a caucus issue,” he shrugged.

Brisson said he was afraid the minority caucus proposal would delay the passage of the bill. “The first time I ran for state office, I spent $100,000 of my money on a primary that was July 20th because of delay.” he said. “Nobody goes to the polls on July 20th unless they’re going for a school bond. That’s what the Democrats did the last time.”

“The Democrats basically did the same thing the Republicans are doing now they are the majority. Sure, it was a debatable thing, but as long as they comply with the law, and they say they are,” he said. “I’m not the law.”

“It was just - I voted for the budget. Why not? They’re the majority, People expect me to work with whatever I have to work with in whatever I do,” he said of his vote. “I don’t think it’s to the point now where you’re voting Republican or Democrat. I think it’s doing the right thing. It is with me.”

Ever since Brisson voted with the GOP last month to override the budget veto, rumors have been rampant that he'll switch parties before the next election. But he says it's not true. “I’ve always been Democrat, and I’ll continue to stay Democrat.” 

As for other Democrats who criticize him for breaking ranks with his caucus, “They don’t look at the whole picture,” Brisson said. “You look at the whole picture, you do right for the people that sent you up here and do the best you can, and that’s what I’m doing. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”

Rep. Dewey Hill, D-Columbus, was the other Democrat who supported the Republican proposal.

“Well, I was not on the redistricting committee, so I’m not sure what they run into. I’m assuming that what they’ve done is legal. If it’s not, we’ll soon find out, because there’ll be some lawsuits,” Hill said.

“But I don’t know why we’d do any better on redistricting, I don’t know what else you could do,” he added. “It’s according to who’s in charge.”

Hill said it’s all partisan posturing, anyway. “You’re not gonna ever get a Republican to vote for a Democratic budget. You’re never gonna get a Democrat to vote for a Republican budget,” Hill said, seemingly forgetting he did exactly that last month. 

Hill confirmed he didn’t support the Democratic map advanced by Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, but he did support a competing map by Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg. “I voted for the Alexander plan. The black plan. We had a black and a white plan. I voted for the black one.”

Why did Hill vote for one Democratic map but not the other? “Well, I won’t go into that but it was a caucus thing. I just voted for whatever. There’s a plan there.”

Rep. Glen Bradley, R-Franklin, was the third flip vote today, going against his party’s redistricting proposal.

It’s fair to note that the GOP map would double-bunk Bradley in the same district as Rep. Jeff Collins (R-Nash). But other double-bunked Republicans didn’t vote against the map. And Bradley said via Twitter that wasn’t why he voted against it, either.

“It’s the writing of Franklin County entirely out of [the General Assembly],” he explained, pointing out that his county would be divided up into two districts, each encompassing a larger population center.

Bradley also thinks the remapping of his county puts a court case above the state constitution. “Franklin is divided 3 ways, and as a Constitutionalist I can't support that,” he tweeted. (Actually, it appears to be divided into two districts, but the point stands.)

UPDATE: Bradley sent this more detailed explanation via email:

My county is being divided into two House districts, both with the majority of their respective populations in Nash County, and one Senate district, with the majority of its population in Wake County. Effectively, this divides Franklin County three ways, and leaves Franklin County without a seat in either chamber of the General Assembly. 

I believe that violates the spirit of Article 2 Section 5 Clause 3 of the NC State Constitution prohibiting the dividing of counties in the formation of Representative districts, if not the letter also. I am well aware of the conflict between the NC Constitution and the US Constitution Article 4 Section 4, but the two should be harmonized rather than picking one of them to ignore.

Because all districts must contain an equal number of voters, you can never match county lines perfectly. However, bearing in mind the original intent of the NC Constitution, when that language was originally written counties were not precisely fixed like they are today, they were more groupings of communities. Therefore, when taken with the Federal requirement of equal (1 person 1 vote) districts, the priority needs to be set on keeping communities whole.

The communities of Franklin County are sharply divided in the House plan, and population majorities weight the liklihood that Representatives from both districts will come from Nash. Plus, the formation of the Senate district putting 75% of it's population in Wake County will weight the liklihood that our Senator will come from Wake.

When taking the House and Senate plans in conjunction, out of the 170 seats in the General Assembly among 100 counties, the probability of any Franklin County resident becoming a member of the Assembly is becoming vanishingly small. Given that Franklin County is 75% of a House District by itself, even the practical argument is not supported by the math.

What has been done to Franklin County is impractible, unconstitutional, and wrong. I will always stand on principle over party, even (maybe especially) on big issues like this one. I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitutions of the United States and North Carolina, and to vote in favor of this plan, I feel would have violated that oath.

I did in fact vote for one of the alternate plans. I voted for the Kelly Alexander [Legislative Black Caucus] plan. While it actually made my district more difficult for a Republican to win in than the Lewis Rucho Dollar plan, there was a much greater effort to keep counties and communities whole, which is important Constitutionally, as well as it directly addressed and assuaged the concerns of many of the respondents at the public hearings, including the counties Republican and Democratic Parties, the NAACP, and general public commentary. I felt that was more important than partisan 'winability' so I supported the Kelly Alexander plan.

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